When two young (12 and 13) persons of my acquaintance told me that Christopher Nolan’s supposedly mind-bending Inception was the best movie they had ever seen, I thought it was my Christian duty to go to see it. It is rated PG-13. I am not opposed to some level of violence in movies (I rather liked Munich, for instance), but I was really shocked that the first twenty minutes of Inception was nonstop mayhem with no plot to speak of, no opportunity to identify with anyone or anything of value except “that’s Leo DiCaprio, so that’s who we root for.” And it went on from there.
It is disturbing to think that our young people are completely inured to this sort of thing. They are hooked on action, spectacle, sensation, and special effects and have no concept of character development, moral complexity, or the logic of a story. They don’t seem to respond to deep, searching themes, only to shock and violence. And as for anything in black and white, forget it.
David Denby of The New Yorker is not my favorite film critic, but I agree with him about this one. Here are a couple of excerpts from his July 26 review:
The theologians of pop culture, taking a break from The Matrix, will analyze the over-articulate structure of Inception for mighty significances. Dreams, of course, are a fertile subject for moviemakers. Buñuel created dream sequences in the teasing masterpieces Belle de Jour (1967) and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972), but he was not making a hundred-and-sixty-million-dollar thriller. He hardly needed to bother with car chases and gun battles; he was free to give his work the peculiar malign intensity of actual dreams. Buñuel was a surrealist— Nolan is a literal-minded man. Cobb’s [DiCaprio’s] intercranial adventures aren’t like dreams at all—they’re like different kinds of action movies jammed together…
Denby praises the visual technique in some of the scenes, but then concludes:
But who cares if Cobb gets back to two kids we don’t know? And why would we root for one energy company over another? There’s no spiritual meaning or social resonance to any of this, no critique of power in the dream-world struggle between C.E.O.s. It can’t be a coincidence that Tony Gilroy’s Duplicity (2009), which was also about industrial espionage, played time games, too. The over-elaboration of narrative devices in both movies suggests that the directors sensed that there was nothing at the heart of their stories to stir the audience. In any case, I would like to plant in Christopher Nolan’s head the thought that he might consider working more simply next time. His way of dodging powerful emotion is beginning to look like a grand-scale version of a puzzle-maker’s obsession with mazes and tropes.
“Powerful emotion” is not the only thing lacking in this movie. Unfortunately, youngsters who are addicted to the sort of stimulation that Inception provides are resistant to the great humanistic films about children and adults like Bicycle Thieves (directed by Vittorio de Sica) and Fallen Idol (Carol Reed). But let’s keep trying!